Posted by: soleilquidanse | June 5, 2012

Food Trucks and French Cuisine

I read the recent New York Times article on Parisian food trucks with interest. And fine, plenty of jealousy (I would have KILLED for a taco truck in Lyon).

The author briefly mentions that street food in France has been around for a while, saying:

At outdoor markets like this one, there is often a truck selling snacks like pizza, crepes or spicy Moroccan merguez sausages, cooked on griddles and stuffed into baguettes.

I’ve been to all such kinds of “food trucks” in different cities in France. The best sandwich in Lyon is only available from midnight to 4 am on Place des Terreaux. All kinds of people stand on line, never waiting more than a few minutes for hot, spicy, deliciousness (if you find yourself there, get the Merguez with mayonnaise and extra harissa. Your hangover will thank you the next day).

My problem with these new food trucks is just how American they are. Tacos, bagels, burgers, cheesecake– all delicious, and it’s great to show the French that there’s more than McDo to American cuisine. But I do wish there were trucks devoted to making amazing French regional food. Each region of France has it’s own traditional and delicious food that usually doesn’t muster up when it’s served outside of the area. The salad niçoise you can get in Paris is usually a pretty sorry excuse for the real thing. How about a Lyonnais food truck serving saucisse au vin rouge (pork sausage cooked in red wine) or caviar de la Croix Rousse (a cold salad of firm green lentils in a mustardy vinaigrette)? Or a Loire Valley truck serving rillons (confit pork belly) and rillettes (a pate-like spread of pork or duck meat slowly cooked in its own fat)?

Great, now I’m hungry.

Food trucks are creative, inventive, and interesting. I hope that the next wave of trucks includes chefs taking advantage of the different kinds of cuisine they already have.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | May 31, 2012

Back from France

If you have a Google Reader (which is the only reason you’d still be reading this), SURPRISE! I am, once again, back from France. This time I won’t make any promises to blog again, because we all know how that works out, but I did want to write a quick update. Maybe I’ll write a few posts, it depends on how long unemployment lasts.

Coming back from France this time around is a little harder. I’m not sure when I’ll be going back (except for a wedding in July, but shhh, I’m being nostalgic), and I feel like coming back to America is a bigger adjustment than I remembered. The prices of goat cheese at Stop and Shop made me cry, for example. I can’t even talk about bread.

In hommage to France, I made a short list of things I’ll miss about My French Life:

— Eating the crunchy pointy end of a just-purchased, still-warm baguette the second you step out of the bakery

— The wave of smell that washes over you when you walk into a cheese shop

— The calm, quiet peacefulness of a Sunday afternoon

— The jokes people make about how my name sounds with a French accent

— Sitting at a café for hours chatting with friends and only buying an espresso for 1.20€.

— Going back to the same café at night and getting a glass of rosé (avec glaçons, s’il vous plaît) for less than 3€

— How “ça va” has at least a dozen distinct meanings depending on the tone of your voice.

— The names that never stop seeming romantic: Baptiste, Jean-Jaques, Pierre, Philippe, Marine, Anne-Sophie, Guillaume, Marguerite…

— The incredible and deep satisfaction that comes from learning something new (a word, an expression, a cultural fact) every day, and usually every hour

— Buying flowers (or anything, really) and watching the lady fuss over the bow and packaging even after you’ve told her “no, it’s not a gift”

— Appreciating cultural differences, be it overwhelming, hilarious, informative, infuriating, surprising, nonsensical, or heartwarming

— The infuriating lack of cohesion and logic to be found in banks, post offices, town hall, and any other important center…

— … and finally realizing that I can shrug my shoulders and respond “well, that’s not my problem” along with the rest of my adopted compatriots.

— Learning to deal with, accept, and even appreciate the more aggravating quirks of French life with the knowledge that everything makes up for it

I wouldn’t trade my time in France for anything, and I appreciate so much all I’ve learned and done in the past year. À bientôt, avec grand plaisir.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | October 25, 2011

L’Arabe du Coin

I’ve spent the past few weeks apartment searching in Lyon. I finally signed a lease on Friday, and once the gas and electricity are turned on this Thursday (only six days after signing the lease!), I am really excited to move in. It was a stressful process and I’m excited to have a permanent home.

It was also quite the learning experience. Some things are universal when you’re looking for an apartment. Location, lighting, proximity to public transit, etc, are the basic things you want to know regardless of country. Then there’s the more specific details, like square footage (or meter-age), gas or electric heat, closest laundromat, and smaller details that are also relevant abroad.

My brother told me the key to happiness in an apartment is to be within walking distance of a grocery store. This was definitely true for me in Boston, where I could walk to Johnnie’s or Shaws in under 5 minutes. That still holds up in France, but it gets a little more complicated. 98% of businesses close at 8 pm or earlier and aren’t open at all on Sundays. So in addition to a regular grocery store, you want to make sure there is an arabe du coin nearby. It’s just a bodega that sells overpriced food, alcohol, and cigarettes, but is open on Sundays and at least until midnight. It is an absolute lifesaver when you realize your fridge is bare at 1 pm on Sunday, or just to grab a bottle on wine on your way to a party, or when your chain-smoking French roommates run out of rolling papers.

French people usually just call the shop l’arabe. They usually are found in the largely Arab neighborhoods, often sell speciality ingredients, and are indeed run by Arabs. Apparently in other French cities these stores are called un Chinois (Chinese) or un Paki (Pakistani) depending on who runs it.

Funny, because in Boston we also get our beer and cigarettes at le Packie.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | October 22, 2011

Dante needs another circle of Hell called La Banque

The following is a true story that may explain any role France has in the European banking crisis:

Currently, my account with my bank Le Credit Lyonnais, or LCL, is based in Grenoble. I needed to change it to my current address in Saint Priest to order a new bank card, checks, etc, and to be able to receive my statements. I go to the LCL branch in Saint Priest with my magic form, an “attestation d’hebergement” that reads something like “I the undersigned attests that Hope Gee has been living at the following address since October 1st.” I’ve been told that after my passport and visa, this is the most important document I own. I go to the welcome desk at the bank and tell the man I need to change my address. I confidently pass him my magic paper, which he briefly looks over and purses his lips. He shakes his head and replies “Mais non mademoiselle, we do not accept this form.” I try to explain that this is the only thing I have, since all the bills are paid for by the mayor’s office, and the internet is in my roommate’s name. He calls the mayor’s office to confirm, and has a brief conversation with the woman who is in charge of the apartment. It is decided I need to go back to her office and get a new piece of paper (different in some unknown way I am holding) to prove I live there. At this point he has talked to me, my landlord, and has seen an official signed paper, but it’s not the correct official signed paper, so he can’t be really sure I live where I (and the mayor’s office) say I live. I leave, somewhat defeated, and decide to just wait until I move to a more permanent address in downtown Lyon before making my change of address, which will be within the week.

The next morning I come back for a different problem. In order to pay for my new apartment, I need to pay realtor’s fees, security deposits, etc. all by check. I can’t get my own checks until I have a permanent address, but I need a check to pay for a new address. I decide instead just to deposit the cash into my future roommate’s account, and have him write my a check. He gave me all the information to make the deposit, I should be good to go. I go back to the same LCL branch, and the same guy is there. The first thing he tells me is “Ah oui, I talked with my directeur last night and it turns out you can use that attestation in change your address, sans problème.”

Ah bon.

Well, that’s not what I’m here for. I need to make a transfer to a different account. “Mais non mademoiselle, you can only make a transfer request when you’re at your home bank branch.” Ah. We discuss how to fix this circular problem, as he knows changing my address is un peu compliqué. We decide to fax all my information to my branch in Grenoble, and then they will make the transfer as if I was standing right there. He calls them to confirm this is possible, and after two wrong numbers talks with someone who will receive the fax. They will then call me to confirm I want to make the transfer, and all will be well. After walking half a block it hits me: my account is still linked to my old phone number, which no longer works. LCL doesn’t have my new number. I turn around and go back inside, explain the situation, and we resolve it by emailing the Grenoble branch my new number. However, I was so flustered by the confusion that I gave him the wrong phone number by mistake, which I didn’t realize until the end of the day, so I never got a call from the Grenoble LCL.

I need to get my roommate this money by 5 pm the next day. At a loss, I ask him if I could just give him the cash instead of making a deposit, but his bank only accepts cash deposits made in person at the branch where the account was opened. His account is based in a town 5 hours away. I give up on that, and I work something out with a different roommate whose bank DOES accept deposits at any branch. We agree I will give her the cash that night and she’ll write a check for me. However, since I’ve already put the money I need into my French account, I need to take it back out. I’m not in Saint Priest this time, but in downtown Lyon. I walk into a very fancy-looking branch of LCL and get on line at reception desk. When it is my turn, I explain that I need to make a withdrawal but I don’t have my debit card yet (since, remember, I don’t have a permanent address), but I do have my account information and my passport, which I know is all I need to make a withdrawal. The woman stares blankly and answers “Mais non mademoiselle, this branch doesn’t have cash. You can only get money from the ATM in the lobby.” I remind her that I do not have a bank card, and she shrugs and tells me I need to go to a different branch, located a 20 minute walk away, in order to get cash.

I diligently follow her instructions and go to the branch that has money. When the teller asks me why I don’t have a bank card, I politely and patiently do not strangle him. I just shrug in return, a gesture perfected in five visits to three different bank branches in 36 hours.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | October 9, 2011

France Part Deux(ish)

I am back in France, this time teaching through the English Assistantship Program in Lyon. I’m teaching in Saint-Priest, a “banlieue” an hour outside of the city but accessible by public transit.

But this post isn’t about that. This post is about tartiflette.

Some recipes just can’t be replicated outside of France. It’s just not the same, I swear. In France, it’s one of the surprisingly numerous ways to eat cheese and starch together with at least 3 forms of additional fat. Traditionally, you are supposed to eat it after a long day of herding cows or harvesting hay. My current roommate Anna and I made this after a freezing cold rainy day of walking around the old part of downtown Lyon.

Reblochon is the cheese you use to make tartiflette. It is deliciously smelly, to the point where you’ll get weird looks on the metro when you carry it home. The smell makes me a little uncomfortable, since a mix of dirty socks, wet dirt, and cream shouldn’t make you salivate. But yet, it does. If you can find it, brie or camembert would be a more mild and creamier substitute.

Make this when the temperature drops and you feel comfortable wearing sweatpants the next day.


2-1/2 lbs thin-skinned potatoes
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
12 oz lardons, or slab bacon cut into small pieces
1/4 cream or whole milk
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 of a 500-gram wheel of reblochon

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the potatoes. As they cook, butter a baking dish and set aside. Cut the Reblochon wheel in half widthwise and lengthwise (giving you four quarter-moon slices).

In a frying pan, add a lump of butter, the sliced onions, and the lardons. Season with salt and pepper, and cook until the onions are soft and the fat is rendered from the meat.

When the potatoes are just barely fork tender (still slightly firm), drain. Do not rinse. While sill warm, slice the potatoes in 1/2 inch slices.

Spread 1/2 the potatoes in the bottom of the buttered dish. Add 1/2 of the onion and bacon mix on top. Top with two pieces of the reblochon cheese, rind side up, slightly apart from each other. Season again with salt and pepper. Repeat the layering, ending with the cheese rind side up again. Pour the cream and wine evenly over the dish. Bake for 30 minutes or until gooey and golden brown on top. Serve with a green salad for a “balanced” meal and a glass of fruity red or crisp white wine.

I didn’t take any photos, but here is one from a different site:

Posted by: soleilquidanse | March 26, 2011


A new blog layout!! I’m still fixing it, but I like that this is a little more easier to read.

I eat a LOT of yogurt. Weirdly, I prefer savory to sweet yogurt. I almost always eat plain unsweetened yogurt. Often I’ll add curry powder, chili powder, or even just salt and pepper to it for a snack. Weird, but really good! So of course I love yogurt dips like raita or tzatziki. If you’ve never either, they’re yogurt sauces (Indian and Greek, respectively) using yogurt and cucumber to make a creamy sauce.

This should have been made with Greek yogurt, since it’s much thicker. If you don’t have Greek yogurt, you can put a cup of regular yogurt in a fine mesh strainer and set it over a bowl to collect the whey as it drains. Ideally it should drain overnight, but even an hour or so makes a difference in the thickness. Or, be like me and be too lazy to do that, and just use regular plain yogurt. It still tastes good. As an aside, yogurt is one of those words that looks weirder the more you read it. Yogurt yogurt yogurt.

The picture is of falafel I made, as well as a tomato onion salad. The salad was great (I’ll post a recipe for it later), but the falafel was a bust. It was a boxed mix from Fantastic Foods. I broiled it instead of pan frying, and it came out very dry and crumbly. I think they would be a lot better fried, but then, what isn’t? I like the Fantastic tabbouleh mix, but their hummus mix isn’t worth it, you can make much better hummus from scratch just as easily.


1 cup plain yogurt (Greek is better, but use whatever you have)

1/2 cucumber

1-2 small gloves garlic (since it’s raw, it gets REALLY strong, especially the longer you let it sit)

Salt and pepper

1/ tsp. dried oregano

Dried or fresh mint or dill (optional)

1-2 tsp. olive oil

1. Grate cucumber coarsely. Place into a double layer of paper towels, gather edges, and squeeze out extra water out into the sink. Place drained cucumber in a bowl with yogurt.

2. Finely mince garlic (or, you can use the small holes on a box grater to grate it, too). Add to the yogurt and cucumber.

3. Season well with salt and pepper (don’t under salt! It needs it) and a dash of oregano. If you want, you can add dried mint or dill, or even fresh mint or dill.

4. Add olive oil, and stir throughly. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to let the flavors meld.

You can use it as a dip for vegetables, or top falafel, chicken, or lamb. It would be delicious on a hamburger, too, with some feta cheese and sliced tomato and onion.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | March 24, 2011

Fajita Chicken

In France, the food I missed the most by FAR was Mexican. It just doesn’t really exist in France. So I started obsessively thinking about the flavors in Mexican food, to see if I could recreate it somehow. To some extent, I could. Making guacamole, for example, is easy when you have avocado, tomatoes, onion, limes, garlic, and cilantro. I spent a FORTUNE on Old El Paso salsa, average cost of 5€ for a 6 oz. jar. However, I just couldn’t find cumin. It’s such a distinctive spice that gives such great flavor to all kinds of cuisine, but it particularly stands out in Mexican dishes. I found out when I got back to the States that it’s possible to find in specialty stores in some of the bigger French cities. In hindsight, even if I had found it– what was I going to do, eat it plain? My kitchen was pretty limited.

This is easy and super flavorful, and one of my favorite go-to meals. And yes, it has a lot of cumin. If you want, you can serve it over rice or with chopped tomato, sour cream, or cheese. I just like it plain though. However, be careful with the cayenne. It’s reeeaaally spicy and you only need a dash. One of the first times I made it, I added way too much. So much that when I walked into my living room to eat it, my roommate started coughing and sputtering from the fumes alone. Whoops. If I have cilantro on hand when I make this, I sprinkle some on top at the end when I add the lime juice.

Fajita Chicken, adapted from Skinny Taste

4 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced

2 tsp. olive oil

1/2 onion, sliced

1/2 green pepper, sliced

salt and pepper

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp garlic powder

A dash of cayenne chili powder to taste (it’s REALLY spicy! Be warned!)

Big wedge of lime

1. Add 1 tsp of olive oil to a VERY hot pan. Add the chicken in a flat layer. Once it’s browned on the bottom, flip and cook on the other side. When cooked through, remove to a plate and set aside.

2. Into the same pan, add the sliced onion and pepper. Don’t stir for a minute or two so the vegetables can get nice dark spots on them. Cook until softened but still crunchy, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the chicken back into the pan, then add cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir, then squeeze the lime over everything. Serve immediately.

If you’ve added too much cayenne, you can always mix in some sour cream to calm it down. Your roommate might appreciate it if you stayed in the kitchen to eat it, too.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | March 23, 2011

Quick and Easy Pasta Bake

Sometimes, you just need pasta.

Do you know the feeling? Today was a little long and tiring, plus I’m still cold (it’s not snowing, but it’s hardly balmy outside). Comfort food, to me, is pasta. With cheese. So I wanted to throw together a cheesy pasta bake without spending too much energy. But, I didn’t have any ricotta cheese! Tragedy! So here’s a tip: if you pulse cottage cheese in a food processor for a few seconds, it looks and tastes just like ricotta! A little less creamy and more watery, maybe, but it’s really close. Also, if you can’t find fat-free ricotta (I never can), this is a great substitute if you use fat-free cottage cheese. But, I didn’t have cottage cheese either, so I used a dollop of sour cream. Whatever you have works.

Sidenote: Five years ago I asked for a blender for Christmas (I sure was wild at 17). I got the BEST ONE. It blends great, but it also has a mini food processor attachment that uses the same motor. Now that I have my own kitchen I’m obsessed and use it all the time.

I know my photos suck, I’m taking them with my phone. I promise they look a little more appetizing that they appear.

Easy Italian Pasta Bake

1/2 cup dry whole wheat pasta

4 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast

1/2 cup jarred tomato sauce.

1/4 cup ricotta (or, see above! I used fat free sour cream)

1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms

1/2 medium tomato, chopped

1/4 cup mozzarella cheese (I used fat-free). I won’t judge you if you use more. Sometimes, life demands intense cheesiness.

1. Preheat your oven to 350º.

2. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water until a little less than al dente (that is, chewier than you’d want it to be if you were going to eat it right away).

3. Meanwhile, in a frying pan sprayed with cooking stray, cook chicken until done (the juices will run clear when you cut into it). Let cool a few minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

4. When the chicken and pasta are done, mix together with sauce, ricotta, and vegetables. Pour into a baking dish sprayed with cooking spray and top with mozzarella. Cover tightly with tinfoil and bake 15 minutes. Take off the tin foil and bake another 10 minutes or until the mozzarella is browned and the dish is bubbly around the edges.

This is easy, and you can throw whatever you want into it. Use ground beef instead of chicken. Full fat cheese. Zucchini or broccoli instead of mushrooms and tomato. Hell, use only pasta and no veggies; I won’t tell your mom. It’s a great way to use up leftovers. It was also delicious.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | March 22, 2011

This is still kicking around?

So, it’s been a while. I’m back in the US, plugging away at a BA and graduating in May. But something’s been missing. I miss blogging!! My life is considerably less interesting at BU than it was in Grenoble, but I get to do something I couldn’t there: cook. And I cook a LOT. I love it! I find chopping, stirring, sautéing, baking, and simmering soothing and relaxing. Plus, it’s an awesome way to procrastinate. I can always justify cooking– I need to eat, so I might make something delicious. So I’m going to blog more, but it’s going to be much more cooking-focused. Still rambling, but more on just one subject.

Yesterday was the first day of Spring. It also snowed. Ah, New England. Gotta love it (or it’ll make you cry). So I stopped in Espresso Royale Café to buy some soup. They had chipotle sweet potato soup that was absolutely delicious– sweet, spicy, and perfect for such crappy weather. I wanted more creamy soup when I got home that night, but I also had a craving for Thai food. Such a dilemma! So I decided to make my own sweet, spicy, and creamy soup using butternut squash. This was the result!! It’s on the spicy side, but not overwhelming. Otherwise I left the seasoning pretty simple, I didn’t want to overwhelm the squash flavor too much. I didn’t measure, so I’m guessing on amounts, too (I did weigh the squash though). It made a LOT, and I’m having leftovers cold for lunch. It’s sweeter cold, but I think I like it hot better. If you try it, let me know what you think!!

Oh, and the green stuff on top is just sliced baby spinach. Totally unnecessary, I just thought the photo needed color.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

1 2 1/2-lb butternut squash

2 tsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 apple, diced

1 generous tablespoon red Thai curry paste

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup milk (I used 1%, you can use whatever you have)

Salt and pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Cut the squash in half widthwise, and again lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and discard. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray and place the squash cut-side down. Bake for 45-60 minutes or until squash is tender (aka, a fork slides in and out easily. Test in a few places, the cavity makes it cook unevenly). Let cool.

2. Meanwhile, add olive oil to a heated sauté pan (use a big one, all the soup is going back in this eventually). Sauté the onion and apple until soft. Add red curry paste, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add water, scraping up any stuck bits on the bottom of the pot.

3. When squash is cooked and cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and add to pot, mashing any big chunks. Simmer 5-10 minutes, depending on how impatient you are.

4. In batches, purée mixture in a blender until completely smooth. Be careful not to overfill your blender or soup will go flying all over your kitchen. Also, try holding one corner of the lid (away from you) so the steam can escape.

5. Add puréed soup to now-empty pot you cooked the apple and onion in. Mix in the milk and stir throughly. Taste and adjust your seasonings (I needed to add more salt at this point). Bring to a low simmer, and serve hot. Leftovers are good cold, too.

Posted by: soleilquidanse | August 1, 2010

Smile because it happened

Tomorrow is my last day in France. Today is my last day in Roanne. So I’m warning you, this is a rambling and emotional post.

Saying goodbye is a weird thing. Of course it’s hardest to say goodbye to everyone I know here, and it’s hard leaving an internship I really grew to love. But, there’s more to it than that.

You know how when you hang out with the same person, you start speaking like they do? You use the same rhythms when you talk, the same slang. You don’t even really notice it, at first, and then you can’t remember exactly whom it all came from or when you started doing it. That’s how I feel like with French. I know and use slang, I have my own way of saying things and I know all this stuff about how to say what I want in the way I want. I’m not a completely different person when I speak French, but at the same time, I am. I am in the way that how we express ourselves defines us. And I hate that I am saying goodbye to that person.

It sounds simplistic, but I love speaking French. Every day I learn something, every day there is something challenging. I’ve studied French for 12 years. And for as long as I knew what it was, I’ve planned on spending my junior year abroad. In that way, I feel a little lost now that it’s over. I know I want to come back to France. French has been important to me for so long—I went to Sainte Anne, I took all the French classes I could in high school, I entered college as a declared French major… and I can’t explain why. I have no idea what it is that I like so much. But I don’t think I need to know. As long as I am sure that I want this to be a part of my life, and that I can’t imagine myself without it, do I really need to question myself?

This is basically how I feel:

How can I be “going home” when I’m at home right now?

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